Above The Fray

Poised Passer Joe Flacco Faces A Broncos Rush That Has Bucked More Than Its Share Of Qbs

November 01, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

The task of ending a three-game losing streak against the undefeated Denver Broncos is only part of the pressure facing the Ravens today at M&T Bank Stadium.

The other comes from the Denver defense and its ambush-style pass rush. The revamped Broncos attack from all directions with safeties, linebackers and the NFL's sacks leader.

Denver wants to do everything possible to make a quarterback feel uncomfortable. Yet Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco feels surprisingly comfortable.

"I would say the most similar defense [to the Broncos] would be playing against our guys," Flacco said. "They do a lot of the things that our guys have done in the past, and I think that plays well for us because we know how to react to it."

The Denver defense should look similar to the Ravens' old ones because they share similar bloodlines. Mike Nolan spearheaded the transitions to a 3-4 defense for the Ravens and Broncos.

He oversaw the switch for the Ravens in 2002, and he has done the same for the Broncos this season. With Nolan's unpredictable and unrelenting schemes, Denver leads the NFL in sacks per pass play and fewest points allowed (11 per game).

"In the NFL, it's tough to go into every game and think you're going to just kick somebody's tail with a straight-up defense because everybody has good players," Nolan said earlier this season. "So, if you don't utilize some scheme to assist your players and give them a chance to win some battles, or throw an offense off balance a little bit, it's hard in the long run to be good.

"Every now and then you'll just be better than somebody and you can stay vanilla and beat them, but that's not very often. If you get to the playoffs, I don't care if it's offense, defense or special teams, if you don't have some different tools to use, then you don't really give your players a good chance to win that game."

The Pittsburgh Steelers' 3-4 defense caused Flacco to have some of his worst games as a rookie. But the NFL's eighth-leading passer has handled pressure.

Against the San Diego Chargers, the only 3-4 defense he has faced this season, Flacco threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns. And against the blitz this year, he has completed 65 percent of his passes, throwing for five touchdowns and one interception.

"There are times throughout a game where you feel uncertain about certain things," said Flacco, who has dealt with an ankle injury the past two weeks. "But I think I do a pretty good job of keeping myself levelheaded and reacting to those things on the fly and adjusting to them."

It would be difficult to question Flacco's tenacity after the last game, a loss to the Minnesota Vikings. He got hit. He got thrown to the ground. He got stepped on.

Every time, he got up and walked - sometimes limped - to the huddle. Every time, he would drop back and not flinch when defenders crashed down around him.

"If he has to stand in the pocket again for the team, he does it," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "That's something you can't teach. It has to be in you. Fortunately for us, we have a quarterback that has sort of a defensive mentality when it comes to standing in the pocket."

The Broncos will test Flacco by sending everyone at him. Eight players have recorded sacks for Denver: defensive ends, outside linebackers, inside linebackers, a cornerback and a safety.

The most disruptive pass rusher is outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who tops the NFL with 10 sacks.

"They're throwing everything out there, and they don't give the same look a lot," tight end Todd Heap said. "That's why we really have to be on our game. We really have to be prepared and have watched everything that they've done to be ready for this game."

The Ravens, who are 1 1/2 games off the AFC North lead, need a sense of urgency about this game. They can't afford a loss with what's ahead in November: back-to-back AFC North road games (at Cincinnati and Cleveland) and home games against the undefeated Indianapolis Colts and the defending Super Bowl-champion Steelers.

The Ravens say they're ready to handle all the pressures of this game.

"You really set your offense for these kinds of defenses, because you know you're going to face them eventually," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "That's what we're trying to do. Our techniques are built around these types of defenses, and that's why it becomes such a great test to what we're all about."

NOTE: : The Ravens tried out kickers Mike Nugent and Connor Barth but didn't sign either. It's likely a precaution if Steve Hauschka can't kick today. He is probable with a right ankle injury.

Unstoppable force vs. immovable object

A comparison between the Ravens' offense and the Broncos' defense:

Category Ravens Broncos

Total YPG 393.2 (5th) 262.5 (2nd)

Rush YPG 124.8 (10th) 79.7 (3rd)

Pass YPG 268.3 (8th) 182.8 (8th)

Points PG 28.1 (5th) 11.0 (1st)

Note: NFL rank in parentheses

BRONCOS@RAVENS

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 3 1/2

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